Content marketing for the small business: The 10,000-foot view

You might have heard the expression that “content is king.” You might even know that it means that creating interesting content is the way that businesses build relationships with prospects and customers. People buy from people they know and trust, and they get to know and trust you through the interesting information you give them. Good content posted on your website will also get you found by customers using search engines like Google.

The issue is that too many businesses today are focused on talking about themselves. Yet, when you meet someone like that at a party, how long do you stick around? Probably not very long. To keep people interested in what you’re saying and want to share it with other prospects, the information can’t read like advertising or self-promotion.

The key is to talk about topics that your audience cares about. In this article from AdAge, you can see ways some big brands like Coca-Cola, Expedia, and Red Bull have gotten content marketing right by focusing on what their audience cares about, not on their products.


Expedia’s Find Yours site

These sites offer inspiration, but If you’re not a huge brand like these, you’re probably thinking “That’s great, but how does a smaller company get it done?”

Three steps to getting started with content marketing

Here are the three basic steps to getting started.

1. Generate your story ideas. If you run your own company, you are probably an expert in what you do. When deciding what content to your prospects and customers, start by asking “What motivates people to come to my business?”

If you’re a gardening center, they probably come because they love having a great yard to spend time in, a vegetable garden providing them with produce, or a flower garden they can use to create beautiful bouquets to bring the outside indoors. With that in mind, give them the content they want. Your content could be about prepping the garden for spring planting, recipes for cooking with summer vegetables, or tips on keeping weeding time to a minimum. They might enjoy tips on arranging flowers, interviews with a master gardener, or ways to kill aphids on roses organically. For other ideas, think about the questions customers ask regularly, as well.  

2. Figure out how your customers and prospects like to get content. Do they like monthly newsletters? Do they spend time on Pinterest or Facebook? How about Twitter or YouTube? If you don’t know, you can do research on the Internet about people like your audience, such as women 30-50 years old who live in the suburbs. Another great way to find out their preferences is to ask. If you own that gardening store, ask people when they check out, like “Would you read an enewsletter about gardening tips?” or “Would you watch videos about topics like how to build raised beds?” or “Do you follow businesses you like on Facebook or Twitter?” Don’t ask all the questions at once – just try one or two for a couple of weeks, and then ask about a couple of others later. Have employees keep a tally and don’t just rely on their memories.

3. Plan the delivery. Once you know the topics and the means of delivering them, do an editorial calendar that tells you what stories you are going to use when. In a garden center, you could definitely plan content related to the seasons. Then, apply how you’re going to deliver the content. There are lots of ways to make that happen. Have employees blog about topics they know. Interview that master gardener when you go to a home show and turn it into an enewsletter article and a video. Post pictures of the flowers in bloom right now on Twitter and Pinterest.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s manageable, and sustainable. Start small; don’t try to tackle everything at once. And make sure to measure results so you know what’s working and what isn’t worth your time.

For a good short series of articles about how to get started, see this article by Volusion. This company is focused on online businesses, but most of the ideas apply to brick-and-mortar businesses, too.


Is now the time for businesses to start using Instagram?

In a recent post, I included an infographic that noted that people’s attention span has plummeted to a mere 5 seconds, down from 12 minutes just 10 years ago. This fact might be one of the reasons sites like Instagram are growing in popularity.

Now owned by Facebook, Instagram is a free photo-sharing mobile app for iPhone and Android that has traditionally been used by individuals to take photos on their mobile phones, add a filter to make it look more professional or have more personality (think Polaroid effect), and easily post it to Instagram. Users can also share the photo to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Followers of the individual get to see and process an image in an instant. For some statistics on Instagram, see the infographic from the Digital Buzz Blog below.

Even though it’s traditionally been used by individuals, now might be the time for businesses to explore using it. According to an article titled Why Instagram will be the next big social media platform, while only 18 percent of people currently have an Instagram account – far behind sites like Facebook and Twitter – the rate of usage “in the last 24 hours” is higher than all sites except for Facebook. This is a measure how avid users are of a platform. And if you look at the infographic below, you can see that, as of April 2012, Instagram grew at a rate of about 20 million users per year, on average. At this rate, it will reach the 100-million-user mark in two more years, which is the same rate of adoption for Twitter. (Facebook reached 100 million users in four years.)

But is it right for your business? The answer to this question always starts with “do my prospects use Instagram?” Current statistics from the Pew Research Center suggest this tool could be right for your business marketing toolbox if you market to any of these groups:

  • 18-29 year-olds
  • African-Americans
  • Latinos
  • Women
  • Urban residents

If one or more of these groups is your target market, you can use Instagram in a variety of ways to build an audience or build a better relationship with that audience.

  • In this article by the Social Media Examiner, see some great suggestions for using Instagram to create engagement with contests, encourage viewers with promo codes, feature customers, and promote events.
  • An article on the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) illustrates how you can use Instagram to build your brand and share your expertise. It also gives advice about using hashtags to help people find your business’ posts.  
  • See this article on Social Media Today for idea about using Instagram to show your products, what your products can do, and how they’re made. Also see suggestions for uses like introducing employees or giving loyal customers who follow you sneak peaks at new products, features, or events.
  • In this post on the Instagram blog, see how you can now show your photos to people on the web. Originally, Instagram was only available via mobile phone.
  • As with any social media, make sure you’re delivering good content, via pictures, that’s relevant to your business, but not necessarily all about your business. For example, if you sell beading supplies, don’t just talk about products or sales. Instead, show followers some beautiful examples of jewelry they could create themselves, or that would at least spark ideas of their own. Ideas are everywhere.
  • Don’t forget to not only post your photos to Instagram but share them on your other social media outlets like your Facebook page or Twitter feed. This is a good way to repurpose content and reach your other followers who might not use Instagram (yet).
  • Have a plan for how often you are going to post. Even better, have an editorial calendar for what content you’ll post. Make sure to make a commitment to using this tool well. If you can’t do that now, then consider putting it off until you can commit the time and resources to it.

 In addition to having an Instagram account for your business, you might soon have another way to reach your target prospects. According to a December 2012 article on the Social Media Times, paid advertising is on the horizon for Instagram.

So what’s stopping you from using social media like Instagram? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Reprinted from the Digital Buzz Blog

As a business, how can you possibly keep up with emerging media?

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, Reddit, Quora, LinkedIn, Pinterest. These names represent just a fraction of the emerging media sites that have come into existence over the past decade or less. In fact, this blog entry by Randall Craig suggests that more than 500 social networking sites might exist.

Emerging media present an opportunity for people to connect to others in a way not possible before because it removes the barriers of physical distance and time zones. In an article published by the Pew Charitable Trust, the Trust shared findings like:

  •  Social networking sites are increasingly used to keep up with close social ties
  • The average user of a social networking site has more close ties and is half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American
  • Internet users get more support from their social ties and Facebook users get the most support

However, this brave new world also poses challenges, like the deterioration of attention spans and increase of distractions, which are a detriment to productivity. (See the infographic below, published by Singularity Hub about the negative effects of emerging media. Produced by Assisted Living Today, it is based on data from sources like and The plethora of activities online also introduces the problem of “shiny object syndrome,” where there is always something new to look at or do.

What does all of this mean for marketers? While it has never been easier to reach consumers more directly without going through the gate of a major publication or television station, it has also never been harder to know where to find the people you are interested in talking to. It’s like being in a room with a million other people and hearing all of these conversations going on and trying to wade through the crowd to find the people you have something in common with. And if you do find them, how do you keep their attention long enough to have a meaningful dialog with them? How do you build a relationship when there are so many conversations they could be having at that moment? Just as importantly, how do you find out what they are saying about your brand when you aren’t there? Because now, consumers have just as much power to have conversations outside conventional, and controlled, means, like writing a Letter to the Editor. Now, for better or worse, they can tell everyone online their opinion very easily.

While it will by no means have all of the answers, this blog will discuss trends in emerging media and try to give them context to businesses thinking about establishing or expanding their marketing strategy in the digital space. I hope you find it helpful, and I’m looking forward to the conversation.    


Republished from Singularity